Celebrating Old Cats: What Is Old?

Every year, I write about our old cat needs. While Karma-Kat has just reached middle age, cats age at different rates. When do you consider your cat old? Is your old cat a senior kitty by age 8, or 13, or…when? For cats, what is old?

November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. I have to admit, there’s something special about old cats. This post first appeared in 2012, and has been updated several times. Now that Seren-Kitty has gone to Rainbow Bridge, this post is in Seren’s honor and for all the golden oldie senior cats that rule our hearts (whether here or waiting for us at the Bridge.)

SerenChair

SEREN & OLD CATS

Seren went to the Bridge in December 2017, and would have celebrated her 22nd birthday on February 1st. I wanted to celebrate old cats and talk a bit about what is old age for cats. Some cats age more gracefully than others, and despite her longtime senior status, Seren continued to act like a youngster and keep Magical-Dawg and Karma-Kat in line, up nearly to the last week of her life.

Siamese as a breed tend to be longer lived, and it’s not unusual for healthy cats to live into their late teens or even early twenties. Of course, Seren was a found kitten, and we’re not sure what her heritage was, but she continued to maintain clean teeth, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps. After her bout with the schneezles, and losing one canine (fang) tooth, she continued rockin’ and rollin’ like nothing could stop her. I thought she’d live forever. *sigh* If you have a senior kitty, here are some tips for helping to keep old pets comfortable during their golden years.

Anyway, I thought this was a good time to share a bit from the book COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT.

old cats

WHAT IS OLD FOR SENIOR CATS?

What is considered “old” for a cat? The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.

“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and died August 6, 2005 at the age of 38 years and 3 days.

A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.

SerenBed

PREDICTING LONGEVITY IN OLD CATS

Longevity of unknown heritage cats is much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. The majority of pet cats are domestic shorthair or domestic longhair kitties of mixed ancestry, and the products of unplanned breeding. That by itself points to a poorer-than-average level of health for the parents, which in turn would be passed on to the kittens. Siblings within the same litter may have different fathers, and can vary greatly in looks, behavior, and health. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.

“If you get a kitten, it is very likely you will have this cat for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Dr. Abood. That means the last 25 percent would be 12 to 15 years. To simplify matters, most veterinarians consider cats to be “senior citizens” starting at about seven to eight years old, and geriatric at 14 to 15.

Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Foods. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A geriatric cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human.

CHERISHING OLD SENIOR CATS

Veterinarians used to concentrate their efforts on caring for young animals. When pets began to develop age-related problems, the tendency among American owners was to just get another pet. That has changed, and today people cherish their aged furry companions and want to help them live as long as possible. Now there are many things you can do for common cat aging conditions.

Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. Age is just age, says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at University of Illinois. “There are a lot of things that come with age that can be managed successfully, or the progression delayed. Renal failure cats are classic examples.” It’s not unusual for cats suffering kidney failure to be diagnosed in their late teens or even early twenties.

“I had a woman with a 23-year-old cat who asked should she change the diet. I said, don’t mess with success!” says Dr. McCullough. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age.

“I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at Louisiana State University (now at North Carolina State University). “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”

 Excerpt from COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT, revised and updated Kindle Edition by Amy D. Shojai, CABC. 

seren-karma

DO YOU HAVE OLD CATS?

What about your senior cats? Does he or she act like a senior? What age did you notice a change, if any?

Seren’s aging changes meant her dark Siamese mask turned gray, with white hairs surrounding her eyes. Arthritis made it hard for her to leap as before. Her claws thickened so she could no longer retract them, and she “clicked” while she walked on hard surfaces–I kept them trimmed for her. In her last four months, she needed extra potty spots as she couldn’t quite anticipate getting to the right place on time. But I’ll forever be grateful for the nearly 22 years we shared together.

What about your furry wonders? Please share!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. NOTE: Bling, Bitches & Blood sometimes shares affiliate links to products that may help you with your pets, but we only share what we feel is appropriate.

Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Pet Veteran Love: 8 Reasons to Adopt Senior #Cats & #Dogs

Yes, I’ve got a whole series of blogs about the benefits of senior citizen pets. After all, November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month. If you’ve never considered an old dog or old cat to adopt, read on! Some of the benefits may surprise you.

Dog thinking outside the box

(All images this post from DepositPhotos.com, used with permission)

Adopting Old Dogs and Rescuing Old Cats

This time of year, the holidays can prompt yearnings to adopt a new furry wonder. Nothing beats puppies and kittens for fun. But senior citizen pets offer many advantages. Remember that small dogs and cats often live into their mid- to late-teens or early twenties, while larger dogs remain happy and vital at least a decade. Old fogey pets often have lots of love to share, so think about it.

I even wrote my two “aging dog” and “aging cat” care books in honor of senior citizen pets with detailed health and nursing care information. You can also learn about DIY tips for aging pets.  Here are 8 benefits I hope will convince you to take a chance on a golden oldie.

Less Initial Cost. A mature dog or cat has already been spayed or neutered, and had routine vaccinations. Puppies and kittens are magnets for trouble, and suffer more injuries through nonstop play and exploration than sedate older pets.

Predictable Health. By the time a dog or cat reaches mature status, health or behavior problems will be apparent. That helps adopters plan and provide ways to keep seniors happy and comfortable rather than being surprised by an unexpected issue. For instance, a Dachshund with a history of back problems can be offered steps and ramps to reach the sofa and a beloved owner’s lap. Even with a health challenge, old fogey pets make wonderful companions.

CatDogOnBack_40214727_originalKnown Personality. Puppies and kittens are works-in-progress and hard to predict adult personality. For instance, lap-snugglers as babies may snub cuddles once they grow up. But what you see is what you get with an adult pet. The senior dog or cat personality has been established, making it easier to match your perfect pet requirements. You can choose a dog-loving feline, an active rugged dog, or a pet willing to lap sit.

Already Trained. Older dogs often have already been trained basic obedience. They know how to “sit” and walk nicely on leash, for example.

More Polite. The mature dog has fewer urges to act like a juvenile delinquent. They may still have bursts of energy and enjoy playtime. But older dogs won’t be as likely to jump up, “hump” your leg, or knock down the kids trying to race them out the door. Mature felines won’t be as interested in using your head as a launch pad, or your pant leg as a moveable scratch post.

Fewer Behavior Problems. Puppies and kittens only learn by making mistakes. But a mature pet already knows the rules of the house. An older dog knows not to chew the TV remote or your shoes. She’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go.” The mature kitty understands litter box etiquette, no longer climbs the Christmas tree, or swings from the drapes. He knows not to excavate the potted palm or play ping-pong with the parakeet.

boy with white catKid Friendly. Older pets that have been around babies, toddlers and young children already know how to interact. They can be a wonderful choice for a child’s first pet. Dogs especially may “adopt” your human baby, and shower the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care. They put up with toddler tail tugs with a patient purr or doggy grin. Countless children have learned to walk while grasping the furry shoulder of a canine friend, or reaching out for that tempting feline tail. A mature pet can offer the child a special friend who listens but never tells secrets, a sympathetic purring or wagging presence that acts as a stabilizing influence. Older pets are less fragile than puppies and kittens and can teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures.

senior woman and dogSenior Citizen Friendly. Many older people have loved and lived with pets all their lives. But they may worry what might happen should they outlive a newly adopted puppy or kitten. A mature dog or cat offers just as much love but a more manageable number of years that can be more attractive to older owners. Mature cats and dogs have fewer energy needs—they won’t need owners to take them jogging when rolling a ball down the hallway will suffice. Older owners who have fragile skin can also choose mature pets already trained to be careful with claws and play bites. And the older dog—even if not leash trained—isn’t as able to drag the owner around.

Dogs and cats don’t know they’re old. They only know they are loved. There are many advantages to adopting an “old fogey pet” and these special animal companions return your love in unexpected and glorious ways.

Do you have a “golden oldie?” Did you adopt them when they were seniors, or did they grow up and grow old in your home? Magical-Dawg is now 8 year’s young and Seren-Kitty is 17. Even my thrillers include older pets–there’s something extra special about these lovely old timers. Why did you choose a mature dog or cat? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. NOTE: Bling, Bitches & Blood sometimes shares affiliate links to products that may help you with your pets, but we only share what we feel is appropriate.

Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Say What? Helping Deaf Pets Deal with Schtuff

Seren looking out window

Seren is going deaf. She can still hear some things, but it’s obvious that her hearing has deteriorated especially in the last year.

It used to be I could call Seren to come watch the bunny on the patio, and she’d run from anywhere in the house. She still enjoys scanning the back view for rabbity entertainment–even if she can’t hear it any more.

She’s always been a loud-mouth kitty, talking constantly and responding to our conversation so she always gets the last word. But her voice has always been pleasant, almost a sweet mew. With her loss of hearing, her voice has become louder, more strident, and she often cries especially at night with long drawn out yowls when she can’t hear to find us.

It’s not surprising. Aging cats commonly suffer hearing loss, and Seren is 16 now. I’m referring a lot these days to my old cat care book.

HOW WELL DO PETS HEAR?

In her youth, Seren (like all normal cats) heard much better than people. However, youthful pets hear better than middle aged and older animals. Some cats are born deaf, or are genetically predisposed to deafness. For example, blue-eyed white cats can be born with a condition that results in deafness at an early age.

Hearing is something that cats are better at than dogs–but don’t tell Magic! Normal dogs typically hear the same low-pitched sounds as humans, as well as frequencies as high as 100,000 cycles per second—people can only hear sound waves up to 20,000 cycles per second. Cat hearing is even more acute. Your cat can hear sounds in a 10½-octave range—a wider span of frequencies than any other mammal. That allows your cat to hear nearly ultrasonic rodent squeaks.

At least, Seren used to be able to hear those mousy voices. Not anymore. Oh well, she never caught a mouse anyway!

With age, the delicate structures of the inner ear begin to lose their sensitivity to vibration. This normal age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, develops in every pet that lives long enough—just as it does in aging people. We’re going to be in BIG trouble if Seren lives another 10 years and I’m losing my hearing, too.

Hearing loss can be accelerated by damage from loud noises. Dogs that hunt and are exposed to gunshots for years and years are more prone to damage. Chronic ear infections may also result in hearing loss.

MAKING ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DEAF PETS

Cats and dogs can’t tell us that they’re hard of hearing, and they compensate by paying more attention with their other senses. In fact, strangers probably wouldn’t notice any difference in Seren. As long as she can see folks, she clues in very quickly on what’s going on. Deaf pets watch owners and other pets more closely, and cue off of their behavior to know that somebody’s at the door, for example. Seren alerts to Magic’s behavior when my husband comes home. Deaf pets also pay closer attention to vibration and air currents—the breeze made by an open door may cue them you’ve come home from work. Even when they can’t hear the can opener, the pet’s internal “clock” will announce suppertime.

So what do I do to make accommodations for my kitty? I make sure Seren can see me, and if she’s looking the other way, I tap the tabletop or stomp my foot so she feels the vibration. I don’t want to startle her, and this way she is alerted to my presence. If Magic should start to lose his hearing, he’s already learned many hand signals and probably wouldn’t miss a beat. Pets trained with clickers can instead learn to respond to the flick-on-off of a flashlight or a porch light switched on/off to call the dog inside.

Deafness also raises safety concerns. Can the dozing, deaf cat wake up in time to get away from an aggressive stray? Keeping all cats and especially deaf kitties inside is probably the safest option. Seren rarely went outside anyway, and then on a leash, so she’s not missing anything.

Seren is still happy and otherwise healthy. She still indulges in the “zooms” almost every evening, and enjoys putting the dog in his place. Have you ever had a pet with hearing loss? What were tips that helped you keep your pet happy and safe? Please share!


 

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Feline Friday: Ask Amy & Old Loudmouth Kitties

My Seren-kitty has never been a touchy-feely lap snuggler. She’d rather find a puddle of sunlight (like Cappy-Kitty in the picture) for her heat treatment. It wasn’t until she became a senior citizen cat that Seren deigned to snooze on a human, and with the cooler weather that arrived overnight, she’s demanding more lap time these days. I don’t mind, it’s nice to have a furry hot water bottle to keep me warm.

As promised for National Adopt A Senior Pet Month, today’s topic focuses on some old-cat issues. A biggie is litter box issues. I’m fortunate that Seren has never had a problem maintaining her potty duty–despite the harrowing scary noise a week or so ago during the lightening storm that zapped our alarm system.

[caption id=”” align=”alignleft” width=”216″ caption=”Seren has a very large but shallow box to do her duty.” 7-11 seren big litterbox

”Cappy

Older cats also may lose some litter box allegiance after a lifetime of being faithful. “Going” outside the litter box is the top cat-behavior complaint of cat owners. Litter-box problems lose cats their homes and lives. But cats use urine and feces to “talk” to owners, even if humans misunderstand the stinky message. Cats have logical reasons for inappropriate behavior. Understanding the reasons they snub the box often reveals easy fixes that will keep your cat’s aim on target. It can happen with any age cat so for those with felines younger than “fogey-icity” here are five common reasons cats miss the box, and how to improve their aim.  And when you’ve got an old fogey cat, here are 7 tips for solving old-cat litter box problems.

Actually, potty duty is a way for cats to communicate. They don’t rely on yowls alone. (Hey how was THAT for a segue?!) Seren always wants to have the last word. She’s always been a vocal feline. After all, she IS a Siamese wannabe. But I’ve noticed just in the past several weeks she’s become even more of a loud-mouth. Hmnnn. She’ll be 15 years young in February.

Are your cats chatter-boxes or the strong, silent types? But the older your cat becomes, chances are he’ll also become more vocal. That can be a result of hearing loss–say WHAT?!  The yowls have other causes, too–especially for our golden oldie cats. The Ask Amy video mentions a couple of these issues.

What do you do about your adult cat-erwauling? Did a vet visit take care of the problem? Or are you still losing sleep? Hint: Ear plugs are your friend! What else can you add to the Ask Amy video advice? And yes, I’ve run this Ask Amy video before…need to create some more so feel free to suggest topics in the comments.

SPECIAL THANKS

This post marks my 250th blog post since moving over to WordPress! Wow. And this month as a special “thank you” to all my furry-fantastic-followers, I’ll give away a paw-tographed copy of Complete Care for Your Aging Cat and Complete Care for Your Aging Dog. To get in the running, simply post a comment in the blog about your special pet (old fogey or not) and I’ll draw two names at the end of the month. You can use these award-winning updated books as a resource for yourself or wrap up for a pet-friendly holiday gift to a fur-loving friend. And as an EXTRA-special incentive–and to encourage all of y’all to mentor each other and spread the blogging/twitter/Facebook love–the two winners get to name one purr-son who gives them wags of support and deserves a book, too!

#AskAmy Sweet Tweets

Folks who “follow” me on Twitter are the most awesome Sweet Tweets around–they love #cats and #dogs and #pets, many #amwriting. We’ve become a great community including those in the #MyWANA social network twibe hosted by the awesome @KristenLambTX.  So I’m stealing borrowing Kristen’s methods and creating my own hashtag. Just follow and include the #AskAmy in your tweets if’n you’re interested in pithy links to articles, books, blogs, experts, fictioning and sparkle-icity!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Furry Friday: Adopting “Other-Abled” Pets

PetFinder.com sponsors Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week September 17-25. The event is devoted to giving those pets who are often overlooked at shelters and rescue groups for whatever reason — they’re old, the wrong breed, have special needs, or are simply different or the wrong color — a better chance at finding homes.

Y’all know how I feel about golden oldie pets, after writing two award-winning books that help folks care with the needs of aging cats as well as aging dogs. Senior citizen pets have just as much love to give and often fit very well into families unable or unwilling to manage the hijinks of in-your-face puppies and kittens.

”Old

Adult cats and dogs grown out of the “cute” phase also can have a hard time being chosen. But remember that healthy cats and small dogs can live well into their mid to late teens or longer, and you can expect to enjoy at least another half dozen years by adopting a four year old pet. And usually you save costs because they’ve already been “fixed” and have their shots, as well as basic training.

“Other-abled” pets don’t know what they’re missing. Despite loss of limbs, mobility, sight or hearing, they live and enjoy life regardless of the challenges they face. Often, the pet has less difficulty coming to terms with such changes than do owners. Cats and dogs seem to willingly accept conditions that devastate people.

My friend and colleague Natalie C. Markey shares her life with Oscar. His epilepsy inspired her to write a book about Caring For Your Special Needs Dog. Would she have adopted Oscar knowing that he had health challenges? Absolutely! You can hear from her directly in this Pet Peeves radio interview.

Pets can suffer paralysis through accidents, degenerative back diseases or other health conditions. Nobody knows what happened to Willy the rescue Chihuahua, who lived with rear-limb paralysis. He wouldn’t stop dragging himself from place to place, determined to stay in the thick of things. Once owner Deborah Turner got him strapped into his K9-cart (wheelchair for dogs), he was literally off and running. Willy became the mascot for his local branch of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, has his own website, and two children’s books written about his exploits.

Dr. Paul Gerding, a veterinary ophthalmologist, never considered that his Labrador couldn’t still enjoy life when Katie began losing her sight. He wasn’t able to correct the progressive disease medically, but took steps to ensure the blind dog could still navigate her home and yard by memory. She continued to hunt—in safe clover fields with no ditches or holes—and at home Katie relied on the younger dog Grace to be her personal guide dog pal. Similar stories are found in my cutting edge book.

I recently heard from my colleague, Lynette George, about her latest addition to their own little doggie family. “Her name is CeeCee and she’s a miniature, long-hair, double-dapple dachshund.” She went from the breeder to three different owners, and then ultimately was surrendered at the Oklahoma Spay Network because nobody really wanted to handle a blind dog. “Four months old and thinks she owns the world. She has absolutely no clue that she’s supposed to be “handicapped.” Anyway, she’s absolutely adorable. Everybody who sees her falls in love immediately. She took over Petco when she went in – kind of like she does everywhere she goes. She’s just a hoot every day. We LOVE her!”

Pets inspire us with their stoic attitudes. They don’t know how to feel sorry for themselves, and may not recognize they’re any “different” than other cats and dogs. Fluffy and Prince simply want to get on with the important business of eating, playing, and loving their family. As readers know, furry love comes in all shapes, sizes, and packages.

Do you share your home with a “less adoptable” pet? How did you find each other? Has living with an “other-abled” pet affected your life in positive ways? Please share! I’d love to hear your stories and see pictures of your special fur-kids. And here’s the deal. I’d love to create a whole gallery post next week so you can either post comments or email me amy @ shojai.com with “special pets” in the subject line with a picture. SEND NO LATER THAN NEXT TUESDAY (Sept 20) so I can post the next day. Spread the word–we’ll make your pets famous!

Just for fun, I wanted to share the latest Ask Amy video with a question from Tiffany. This applies to dogs as well as cats. What are some other puzzling behaviors your pets perform?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!